Weerasethakul’s version of cinematic protest is passionate but oblique. What is ailing the soldiers is revealed before too long: in what seems a bizarre literalization of Stephen Dedalus’s quip that “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” it turns out that ancient kings, who once lived, warred with one another, and died in this area, have commandeered the life-force of soldiers, and are using them to continue their endless war in the invisible realm of the spirits. The symbolism of his central conceit—patriotic Thais struggling unsuccessfully to wake up, vampiric autocrats sucking the life out of their subjects—is clear enough, though the film itself treats it so concretely, and with such patient attention, that it’s easy to forget. The boogeyman lurking just outside the frame is the Thai government, a military dictatorship since the May 2014 coup and none-too-tolerant before that. “I see no future in being a soldier,” says Itt, in one of his interludes of consciousness; he’d rather be a baker. But it isn’t up to him, and soon after he says this he falls back asleep.
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